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The Art of Imperfection
I tilted my head to the side, scrutinizing the painting from an angled view. I was intently searching it for flaws. I would not allow any lingering mistakes to ruin my almost-finished painting. It had to be absolutely perfect in order to be sent to the contest.
I tilted my head to the other side, trying to find out what was wrong. I knew there had to be something wrong – there always was. Still somewhat dissatisfied, I tilted my head a third time, and this time, I figured it out. The green pigment from the evergreen trees was slowly seeping into the beautiful horizon I had so delicately finished painting minutes ago.
“Great,” I muttered angrily under my breath. This had not been the first time the green pigment had caused me trouble. Exhaling in frustration, I picked up my palette, which was still halfway filled with grey-blue watercolor, and I walked across my room to where I kept the extra art supplies. Opening the cabinet I took more of the evergreen color and grabbed a couple of paper towels.
From a distance, I suppose, my painting looked striking. Over the past few days, I had been painting a picturesque scene of evergreen trees during the early winter. It was completely covered with a forest, except for a path where a lone woman was walking. Her back was turned, so it looked even more solitary. The sky was a sad shade of grey-blue. It was a rather impressive painting for an eleven year old.
But in my perspective, it was filled with mistakes.
Yet again I had to fix the green pigment which had an annoying tendency to escape to the end of the painting, mixing with the grey-blue pigments from the background. Not only did the horizon now look color-deformed, but there was a lone tree that had a faded color too!
Working as diligently as I could, I carefully measured out the evergreen color, and mixed it with water careful drop by careful drop. When I paint, I paint for perfection, so slopping a few drops of paint and mixing random amounts of water until I get a color just doesn’t work for me.
I dipped my brush into the watercolor and repainted the tree with steady, meticulous strokes. Eventually, the glossy color came back to the tree, and this time, thankfully, I hadn’t applied enough pigment for it to leak into the other colors. I also dabbed at the background, hoping to take away the green pigment that had leaked into it.
With a feeling of closure, I stepped back to admire my finished product. It was perfect, I thought. No mistakes, no flaws! I’ll definitely win the contest!
My art teacher, Ms. Montenegro, had been impressed with my artwork, so she encouraged me to enter a watercolor art contest. Ms. Montenegro was a gentle, yet inspired artist, and she almost always had compliments for my work. I couldn’t wait to show her my finished product! I knew that she would be thoroughly impressed; it was as close to perfection as it possibly could be!
The following day, I patiently waited until after school, and luckily, Ms. Montenegro was still in the art room. I walked up to her and showed her my painting.
“So this is what I’ve decided to enter for that contest. Isn’t it perfect? It’s perfect, right? I’ll win for sure!” I exclaimed excitedly. I didn’t pause or allow her to say anything. I guess I didn’t want to give her time to criticize my perfect painting.
She looked at me with raised eyebrows, but didn’t say anything regarding my little speech. “Wow,” she commented. “It’s beautiful, but…well it’s very…lonely,” she said. “But –”
“Oh no!” I exclaimed, abruptly cutting her off. “I’m so sorry Ms. Montenegro, but I’m going to be late for my bus. Thanks!” I ran out the room with my painting, not stopping to hear what she had been going to say.
Soon after I got home, I mailed my painting and my application for the contest. I was so excited that I didn’t really pay attention filling out my application. I remember hoping to have spelled my name correctly. Then, I sat at the pristine and glowing dining room table and waited. I went to my room to do the rest of my math homework…and waited. Days and days passed, and I continued waiting. I frequently checked the mail. Weeks passed, and still, I was waiting. I checked the mail again…nothing for me. I sighed, then went back inside the house to wait some more. After nearly two and a half months of seemingly infinite waiting, I heard my mom call out to me from the living room.
She smiled at me and said, “It’s for you…” I quickly grabbed it out of her hand, practically ripping it as I struggled to open the envelope. I didn’t even stop to look at who it was from – I just knew in my gut that it was from the art contest. My eyes scanned the paper swiftly – “We are sorry to inform you that you have not won this years’ art contest. Your work was most commendable, and we urge you to continue painting…”
It was as though I was in shock. I reread the paper, over and over again, and furious tears that I tried to hold in came rushing out. Not wanting my mom, the proud mother of a no-longer perfect daughter, to see me cry, I ran to my room and fell onto my bed sobbing. It wasn’t fair, I thought angrily, my face wet with tears. How could I have lost?! It was supposed to be the perfect painting! And I went to sleep, thinking furious thoughts about the art contest.
When I woke up the next morning, I felt much calmer, but instead of feeling angry, I felt humiliated that I had lost.
As I shuffled into art class, my head down in shame, I nearly ran into Ms. Montenegro. She took one look at my appearance and realized what was going on. She directed me to her office and then hugged me. Embarrassingly, tears starting falling down my face again.
“Why are you crying,” she asked me softly. “Sometimes people don’t win, and that’s okay. You’re a wonderful artist without winning that contest.”
I looked up at her and said fiercely, “But my painting was perfect. I should have won. Perfect paintings win. If mine didn’t, then I must have made a mistake.”
She looked back at me kindly, and said, “But that’s what art is, Samantha. Art is about embracing the mistakes.” After some thought, she added optimistically, “Besides, nobody can be perfect, and that’s what makes us special.”
I didn’t know what to say to that, so I hugged her again for her sympathy and left her office. As I was in the bus going home, I had a sort of epiphany. My art teacher was right, and I was wrong. And for the first time in my life, I incredulously realized that I had made a mistake, and I was actually fine with it!
I had dedicated myself to fixing all of my mistakes and tried as hard as I could to avoid making them. But what I had failed to realize was that I had made a mistake…by trying not to make mistakes. In my quest to achieve perfection, I had overlooked the bigger picture.
At eleven years old, I was on my way to becoming a perfectionist. I wanted to win, like every child would, but I also was obsessed with perfection. I wanted to be perfect. I wanted to achieve perfection. But after losing the art contest, I realized that I needed to change, and that I shouldn’t devote my life to trying to be perfect. By losing, I had finally learned to accept my mistakes as a way to improve.
Later that same week, I decided to paint in my room. Nearly done, I turned around to get some more paint when I heard a SPLAT behind me. I froze. Then, I turned back around only to see that my painting was virtually covered in deep red watercolor paint. I had accidentally knocked the paint off the table while I was turning around.
Sighing, I tilted my head to the side to examine the damage. I frowned, then tilted my head to the other side. I smiled.
When I brought it to art class the next day, Ms. Montenegro looked distraught.
“How awful!” she cried. “You must have worked very hard. Don’t worry, we can fix it.”
I looked up at her, smiling to myself, and said, “It doesn’t matter. I like it better this way.”